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A Guide to Google I/O 2011

Gordon Kelly


Google 4

You may have noticed news from Google flooded the tech space this week. The reason was 'Google I/O', an annual two day developer conference held in the Moscone Center in San Francisco. So let's try and make sense of it all…

To understand Google I/O it is important to know where its slightly peculiar name comes from. It means "Innovation in the Open", but in typical Google style also refers to the input/output nature of the conference while being a visual play on the ones and zeros in binary code. This is somewhat long-winded, but is key to understanding the difference between it and similar events like Apple's WWDC (World Wide Developer Conference): Apple shows what it has developed, Google shows what it is developing.

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So what were the key highlights? In short: Google Music, Honeycomb 3.1, Android Ice Cream Sandwich, Android@Home, Google Movies in Android Markeplace and the long awaited unveiling of Chrome OS based laptops and desktops.

Google Music

Probably the worst kept secret in the tech sector, Google's music service is actually something of a disappointment. Much like Amazon Cloud Player, Google Music is simply a service for uploading your existing music to the Web, so it can be accessed and played elsewhere. On the plus side initial reports from the US-only beta say Google Music is slick with a surprising amount of graphical flare for a company typically obsessed with the stripped down basics.

But it is unambitious given the hopes for a full streaming service to compete with Spotify and whatever iTunes' streaming service Apple clearly has lined up. Google admitted these limits, placing the blame firmly on a breakdown of negotiations with the major music labels, but for a company of Google's size this isn't good enough. After all if smaller businesses like Spotify, Napster and Pandora can do it then why not Google? It may regret this if Apple gets its overdue service right first time.

Honeycomb 3.1 and Ice Cream Sandwich

The former is simple: the latest version of Honeycomb, the tablet revision of Android, will bring new expandable widgets plus support for USB peripherals opening up a massive opportunity for gamepad, camera, camcorder, dock and even keyboard manufacturers.

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As for Ice Cream Sandwich, this is where Google's plan gets interesting. Likely to be known as 'Android 4.0' it will re-merge Android smartphone and tablet platforms, similar to the role played by iOS across the iPad, iPod touch and iPhone. Unlike Apple, however, Google doesn't plan to split the apps with Ice Cream Sandwich apps automatically adapting to tablet or phone interfaces depending which device they are on. Whether this inspires developers or concerns them that they are effectively building two apps for one fee will remain to be seen, but from the consumers point of view, it's definitely a boon. Either way, Google needs more tablet apps and fast.

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